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Not so fast with that Copley Place skyscraper, bubs

The Globe reports a planned 47-story addition to Copley Place has critics roiling.

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Walz and Rushing, the anti-shadow avengers to the rescue again!

High density growth across the street from a rail hub, in the middle of a neighborhood full of jobs, is what we have to do to grow responsibly. If we let Walz and Rushing tell us that shadows are the only concern in a city, rather than relieving some of the housing supply problems that lead to affordability issues, and concentrating growth where it makes most sense, then we are doomed.

Oh, and btw, I live on a block that might *gasp* be the "victim" of one of those shadows for a few minutes every day. Believe it or not, I still support this project.

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In addition, the site sits along the spine of tall buildings that runs from the Back Bay to the financial district. This is a fine place to build high.

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When have critics of something not roiled?

When was the last time someone said "I'm going to build this in the city of Boston (particularly Back Bay/South End)" and the response from everyone involved was "Damn right you are and we're gonna help!"?

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Adam - this is in Copley Place not the Pru - joined at the hip across Huntington but a separate development from the Prudential Center (Simon Properties v. Boston Properties - plus a different CAC)

A good place for some level of height and a very attractive design, but this proposal is ENORMOUS - almost as tall as the Hancock and much taller than the Westin next door. About the only thing justifying the height is that you may need to build this high to justify the cost. Probably a lot more suitable to the scale of the neighborhood at about 2/3 the size - but might not be economically feasible at that size. The new zoning guidelines across the street that involved about 2 years of deliberations are 150-200 feet shorter.

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Thanks, fixed.

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This building falls within the so-called high spine, it's exactly where we want height, and if you look at the artist's rendering in the globe, you'll see that it doesn't actually stand out that noticeably for height anyway. It is very skinny, which does give it a soaring appearance, but within the context of the other Back Bay towers, it's appropriate.

IMAGE(http://cache.boston.com/bonzai-fba/Globe_Photo/2011/07/18/copley-place__1311017604_4009.jpg)

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I agree with HenryAlan, which brings up a larger point. Certain people are so obsessed with height in this city that we end up with shorter buildings that are also wider and stumpier. The benefit of building a tall residential building is that residential floorplates can be much smaller than office floorplates, so you end up with a more slender building. One of the reasons that Vancouver's skyline is so admired is that many of those buildings are residential.

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That's how they getcha! A few things:

1) Those drawings are hogmosh - they are always done from the angle most advantageous to the developer (this shows the widest angle of the Hancock and Pru and the narrow side of the residential - draw this from the west and the tower will appear much larger).

2) One of the neighborhood's design principles is to try and transition from the taller buildings to the historic structures in Back Bay and the South End. (nobody but the BRA wants a high spine aka a wall of buildings between the South End and the Back Bay - even the BRA doesn't use the term any longer I believe-although they are trying to clandestinely push it).

3) Again - a structure in keeping with the planning across the street (about 350 feet) and that transitions to Tent City next door is fine. Part of the problem is that we have no planning in this city which is why we have 50% more construction on the drawing board within a 4 block radius of this project as we do in JP, West Rox, Rozzie, HP and Mattapan COMBINED which is where the city could probably most use it and afford it!

I've spoken to several international visitors recently and they agree - one of the great strengths of Boston is that it is not NY or Chicago or any other giant city. Our human scale is an advantage and we should leverage that instead of the continuous battle many wage to be the Little Apple on the Charles. We will never be NY - and we should stop trying before we screw up what we have and it's too late to go back a la the West End and other parts of town that could have been developed far more intelligently. Unfortunately this requires vision and strategic thinking, something sorely and surprisingly lacking in our shining city upon a hill.

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and I called it out in my post below, but really, there's no sense of transition (between really high-modern and low-historic) there as it is. That may have been a design principle of the neighborhood, but few would describe it that way. It is a spine already, and thus a tall building there will have less of an effect than many (most?) other places in Back Bay, or the city entire.
That location is always going to feel taller anyway, because it's on a bit of a ridge (compared to the actual Square on one side and Columbus on the other).

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You (and the drawing) ignore the following new towers all at various stages of development:

Air right parcels at Mass Ave
Berklee School of Music on Mass Ave(actually 2 buildings-one smaller than a tower)
The Christian Science Plaza (at least one - probably 2 towers I think)
888 Boylston office tower
New residential tower on Exeter
Liberty Mutual Headquarters

And of course you have the recently completed following:

Mandarin Hotel (a disaster of design and urban planning)
111 Hungtinton
The Belvedere
The Colonnade Residences(a bit older?)

Also, any new development in the Stuart Street corridor where approvals went from 150 feet to mostly 350 feet.

I'm sure I must have overlooked something. How many more are we going to build before we completely blot out the sun? The city is growing at 0.5% per year - how much of that has to be satisfied in an 8x2 block area that is already some of the most densely built area in the city?

Just sayin'...

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I'm curious if you think the Apple Store was a failure. I don't think so. I also don't see people marching outside of it regularly decrying its "misplacement" as they used to do.

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Why did they get a pass on architectural regs that apply to everyone else in the historic district? Nobody said they had to move in on that side of the street. I'm sure Neena's would have moved if they wanted a glass fronted building not subject to the historical district regs! :-)

The argument that won the day - that I agree with - was it was better than what was there and we can get a new, more appropriate facade some day in the future.

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I can spin it as well as you can.

  1. I'll grant the developer wants to cast the building in its best light, but critics will try the same with that angle from the West that you say is so detrimental. But from any angle, the building is slender compared to the Pru or Hancock, and it is also shorter.
  2. I'm not sure that there is an agreed upon design principle, hence the arguments over every single proposed structure. But you are certainly wrong when you state that nobody wants the high spine. I do. It is a near perfect approach to the idea that we ensure some room for height without disrupting the overall scale of the surrounding neighborhoods.
  3. I'm not sure why we can't do both. I agree that we need more mid-level density for the outer neighborhoods, and also lament that not much is happening in that regard aside from the project next to the Rozzie Square library. But let's be realistic, nobody is going to build a 47 story building in West Roxbury. The only place that will happen is downtown, which almost guarantees the ratio of projects you mention. One building such as this blows away the capacity of Mattapan for now.

To build some towers does not make us New York, nor does it mean we want to be New York. My favorite neighborhoods in New York, in fact, are the ones with fewer towers. But that doesn't mean New York shouldn't have them, nor does it mean that Boston shouldn't. The two cities are different for many reasons, the fact that there are some similarities won't change that. Did building the Weston extension on the Pike turn Boston into Los Angeles?

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That looks completely natural to me - what is the issue? There are plenty of tall buildings (and attendant shadows) around there, and making the existing plot taller is not going to change the sightlines of anyone strolling by (in other words, you can't look "over" Copley Place as it is now any more than you can see over the nearby hotels, etc).
One additional slim building is not going to ruin our nicely human-scaled city.

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Stevil,

The scale of the neighborhood argument eludes me (not just now, always). First, it looks like it will be shorter than two nearby buildings, and taller than the other tall buildings along the spine. Doesn't that mean it falls squarely within the scale of the neighborhood?

On a more macro note, neighborhoods change. That is very good for cities. The development of the Back Bay office district in the 50s and 60s made the area vibrant and interesting, and an important economic driver. The scale of that part of the neighborhood then was small commercial buildings and rail yards. Should we have kept that scale instead of building the Pru and Hancock? The scale of the Financial District, for 300 years, was 4 stories. Then for about 60 years it was 15-20 stories. Should we have told the banks that wanted to expand in the 80s that they should look elsewhere (like 128) to meet their space needs, because all of those jobs would require development that was out of scale with the neighborhood?

If our only argument against development is that it doesn't look like what is already there, then we should probably find a new argument.

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"Whoa, Whoa, Whoa, Now Let's Not Be Hasty."

I've never seen a city as deathly afraid of being one as Boston is. Towers across the street in both directions, a high-density center surrounding it on all sides, ample access to public transportation -- yep, this is a project we need to think over for about 30 years or so before we even think about threatening our precious three-skyscraper skyline.

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Boston isn't afraid of being a city, its just afraid of being a city of the post-19th century. My mother and many of her friends firmly believe that there should be more development in the city to fill in the holes, but only at the appropriate height - i.e no more than 4 stories anywhere except the financial district. There, it should be limited to the height of the Customs House as it was until all of "this" happened. Material to be used: brick. I think this is a generational thing and one that will gradually change. In answer to the anticipated question of "if we limit the hight how can we expect the city to grow or for houses to be affordable," I assure you that the idea of the city growing is not looked upon favorably (as we might become too much like New York) and affordability doesn't really seem like an issue when you have owned your house since they practically gave them away for free.

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Marty Walz is completely in thrall to a subset of largely elderly Back Bay constituents, and her position on development has been consistent ... and pretty consistently wrong.

Someone who is supposedly "green" and "progressive" should welcome transit-oriented development. If high density across from a mid-city rail station doesn't make sense, where does it make sense? (Marty's apparent answer, based on her record: no where remotely near her urban district). And infuriatingly, she rolled over like a puppy when Ron Druker proposed tearing down the Shreve building. (Ron's in tight with the same crowd, and while his proposal would dumb down the streetscape on Boylston, it wouldn't add height - the only dimension of development that seems to matter to her).

Ensuring that the Public Garden and Common aren't buried in deep shadows makes sense - we owe something to the Back Bay residents who fought proposals a generation ago that would have put high-rises directly across from there. But to imply some sort of equivalency for Copley Place is ridiculous - and to assert that a transient shadow on December 22nd should define building limits is absurd. But that's Marty Walz's position, she's sticking to it, and she'll now devote all of her lawyer skills to finding reasons not to build.

What matters most in distinguishing good development from bad development in an urban setting is engagement with the street. Human interaction is focused at ground level. Does the development encourage pedestrians and add life to the street? Is it attractive and easy to navigate? Does it provide interest and variety? The current Copley Place is very weak on all of these points, so there is plenty of room for improvement while adding welcome density, and there's nothing remotely of historic interest on the site. Digging through decades-old documents about air rights rules to insist on preservation of the status quo opposite Back Bay Station is the worst sort of narrow-minded conservatism.

If Walz and Rushing were true progressives, they'd focus all of their attention on making sure that the lowest floors were as well-designed as they could possibly be - since that's what is going to engage people 99% of the time. But sadly, they can be counted on to focus exclusively on counting floors. If the economy is strong enough to support development, we'll wind up with a somewhat shorter stub of a tower and we'll be completely at the mercy of the developer to ensure that the ground floor is anything better than a Wal-Mart box.

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I am all for building and jobs and stuff but howsabout fixing the crater in the middle of downtown first?

A big building there would fit right in, provide jobs, and generally make the area look lots less like a post-war recovery effort.

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Downtown Crossing has a lot of problems that need to be resolved. I am sure filling the enormous rat-infested crater that's been sitting there for years would be a good start.

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Unfortunately, anyone who does not regularly attend community meetings or communicate with our elected officials is complicit in all of this. Marty and Byron vote this way and routinely come up on the wrong side of this issue because the people who actually check a box for state rep tend to be the no-change advocates who hold our city back. What if we got their attention by showing up at one of these meetings and demanding that this project be built, or ask why it isn't being made bigger, considering what tremendous transportation access it has? What if all of us who live in one of their districts pledged to write a letter in support of every good project we read about? What if we complained that their crusade against density pushes development to places where people need to drive everywhere, harming the environment? What if we reminded them that virtually every economist who studies Boston agrees that it is so expensive to live here because we make it so hard to build new housing?

What if we told them that we cared more about having a vibrant, interesting, green, affordable city full of happy people than we do about where a shadow will fall for 20 minutes every afternoon?

Our elected officials take stupid stands because the people who vote want them to. If everyone else voted we'd have a much different development process in Boston.

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To be consistent with my prior complaints, it's fair to ask why this is being pushed through while other developers and projects languish, either due to the economy or because they won't play ball with the Mayor.

Obviously, though, Reps. Walz and Rushing are using that as a way to gum up the works, as it were. I can understand and respect Rep. Walz's concern over shadows, however little effect they will actually have on Copley Square, and even more, concerns over traffic and density. In one generation, we had both the Prudential and Hancock towers; in the next, we've had the two mid-rises on Boylston Street, Trinity Place, The Clarendon, and now three buildings proposed for Prudential Plaza and Copley Place (and, soon, down the street, three more at the Christian Science Plaza). The cat seems to have been let out of the bag and mid-town will now be home to both residents and business people.

My complaint has always been that Rep. Walz gets her nose into things that she shouldn't. Yes, she represents the Back Bay, so yes, she should speak up for its residents, but the Back Bay City Councilor ultimate represents the interests of the residents on a city level.

I don't understand Rep. Rushing's supporting her complaint, except for towing the line with his bestest bud. He should be happy there's new development that won't impede on his (South End) neighborhood. The state's getting a million bucks, plus money to repair/maintain the tunnel, plus the city gets property tax revenue.

Yes, the way development gets approved is the real problem here, but not many people are willing to act on their complaints and make change.

I understand their futility, though. If you go to community / neighborhood meetings, the majority of people who show up are against any change, any where. After spending several years at these events, I can tell you, it's disheartening to have to listen to this, to have the opposite point of view.

We have only ourselves to blame for letting the few, loud voices dictate what happens in the city.

I really don't see that changing, though.

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An additional benefit of a skyscraper full of luxury condos in the Back Bay is that it will keep 318 yuppies from driving up the cost of living in JP, Roslindale, Dorchester, et al and maybe allow ordinary people to be able to afford property in the neighborhoods. The more luxury condos in Back Bay the merrier, I say.

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My main objection to this tower is that it's just another luxury tower for rich people in this city. Don't we have plenty of those?

Honestly, I also don't like the idea of overshadowing the BPL. I remember when I first moved to Boston in 1998 being upset at that tower right between the Westin and the BPL, which was being built at the time. I don't like the idea of surrounding lower height landmarks like the BPL with enormous towers so that it's in shadows all the time. I think it's inappropriate.

But if you don't care for that argument then what about this one - another luxury tower of offices and $1million+ condos does absolutely nothing for me. Last time I checked, the vacancy rate for downtown office space was pretty high, and I am tired of developers building ritzy residences for the super-rich. Normal people need places to live too.

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Now you can explain why anyone who owns property in Boston should care what you think should be done with it.

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